Gear Review: Manfrotto BeFree Compact Carbon Fiber (MKBFRC4-BH)

This going to be a quick review with no photos. The reason why is because I only had this tripod for a week before returning it from whence I bought it. I was so thoroughly disgusted with it after receipt, then after one use, that I didn’t bother to take photos of it before throwing it into its shipping container and sending it back.

Construction: yes, it’s somewhat made of carbon fiber, though only the largest, outer leg segments were woven. The rest of the leg segments were obviously composite of some sort, seemingly chopped carbon in resin, like fiberglass, or even fiberglass itself. They may have even been made of simple polycarbonate extrusions. All I do know is the majority of the legs are NOT woven carbon fiber or aluminum. This was extremely offputting from the start. The spider was made from 2 halves of aluminum, the legs rotated on single-sided pins and they had 2 adjustable positions selected using a knob atop each leg that doubled as stoppers. This managed to create one of the flimsiest setups I’ve ever encountered in a tripod. Ensuring no semblance of stability are the molded rubber feet with angled bottoms, flattened purposely to ensure maximum ground contact when the legs are spread at their working angle. This also ensured the feet slipped on anything less than dry.

The center column was triangular and made of extruded aluminum, surprising since the tripod is advertised to be of carbon fiber construction. There is no hook for ballast, likely because the whole contraption would collapse under any additional strain. Aside from Manfrotto’s unique quick release system, the ballhead was the only solid feature in this design fail. A single knob design that locks both ball and panning, it allows for both portrait and landscape orientation, holding firmly in either. The QR clamp is cut away quite severely to allow the legs to be folded inverted for the most compact carry configuration.

Overall Dimensions: it’s quite compact and lightweight. Deployment is quick, easy and sure with the flip locks. The system controlling the leg angle is questionable at best and the feel of the knobs in use doesn’t inspire confidence.

Durability: what durability? My first test with any tripod is to extend and lock it, placing it on solid, level ground, then grab the spider and attempt to twist it. Most all “travel” sized tripods will have some give during this test. This tripod was by far the worst I’d ever used. It’s as if they made every possible design decision in an attempt to make the least stable tripod possible. The spider looks more like a Rube Goldberg machine than a proper spider. The lower legs are formed of a questionable material and bend with only the slightest of pressure at the middle of each leg segment. Of the legs, only the flip locks and topmost leg sections seemed reasonably secure and durable.

On Location: I took this tripod with me to Franklin Falls. On wet rocks, the feet failed to grip anything, forcing me to use spots that allowed me to wedge the legs into cracks and rocks to steady. Otherwise, the slipping feet would allow the legs to bend and spread, tipping over more than once only from the weight of my Fujifilm X-T2 and 10-24mm ƒ/4 lens. Ultimately, I collapsed the legs and used only 2 of each legs’ 4 sections extended to prevent losing my camera in the river.

The BeFree Compact Travel Tripod (MKBFRC4-BH) is so bad, it’s made me lose confidence in Manfrotto as a whole. It’s no longer on my list of go-to gear brands I check out first when I need something.

Conclusion: AVOID THIS TRIPOD AT ALL COSTS. It has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, an abomination that’s truly less than the sum of its parts. Shockingly, the label on the center column proudly displayed its “Made in Italy” heritage. At $330 MSRP, Manfrotto should be charged with fraud. Now being blown out for $270, it’s still insultingly overpriced. I found mine for $210 as an open box buy from B&H and still felt ripped off. Even at $99, I’d feel cheated. It may be light, compact and easy to carry, especially when hiking, but you’d be carrying it for nothing since it’s worthless as a tripod. Manfrotto knows it’s a garbage product, replacing it recently with the BeFree GT featuring an all new design that undoes all of the moronic design choices used on the BeFree Compact.

One Sentence Description: I’ve used monopods that are more stable while standing freely on their own.

Speaking of monopods, I once tried the Manfrotto Elements 4 section monopod. I was thoroughly disgusted when I discovered their advertised “swappable foot” used a 5/16″ screw instead of the standard 3/8″, purely to frustrate owners into overpaying for an optional spike or replacement foot.

Skip it. If you receive one as a gift, DO NOT USE IT. Give it back and question the nature of your relationship with the gift giver, especially if they’re a photographer.

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